Simplicity is elusive, but oft sought by us humans, particularly the overworked, underpaid, overtired generations who rely on the technology of incredibly complex devices to do the simplifying for us. I go back and forth between a desire for and abjection of technology, craving life off the grid in the middle of nowhere, meanwhile blogging about it and managing it with online budgeting tools.
I’ve always had an affinity for old things. I love vintage appliances, Aqua Net, and Betty Crocker’s Cookbook. My tastes are at odds – I’m drawn to a time period that was intensely focused on convenience, but today feels like a simpler time in which kids went out to play, Mom cooked dinner, and astronauts did math by hand. Lately I’ve been wondering: if I was an adult in the 50’s, instead of the 10’s, would I be nostalgic for a “simpler time,” before cars, refrigeration, and lightbulbs? If I lived in the 1910s instead of the 2010s, would I tout indoor plumbing as an extravagant, unnecessary construct built by a generation seeking only to protect its own interests and indulge a desire for convenience?
I’m pretty sure at any point in history I wouldn’t argue with the awesomeness of a porcelain throne, and I also can’t deny the deep satisfaction I get from storing data in a cloud, teaching from class notes on my iPad, or, I don’t know, writing on the Internet for a living.
Do I miss things like doing math by hand, or looking up how something works in World Book? No, not really, but I like the fact that I know how to do both. Do I think that annually printed publications of “all the facts” are a better or more accurate representation of the world than wikipedia? No, not really. Maybe I just like to have options, but I sometimes wonder: am I drawn to antiquated skills and things because they somehow seem better, or am I just a fan of nostalgia in general?
I guess what I’m afraid of is the loss of still useful skills that were once deemed essential, like writing cursive, balancing a checkbook, and talking on the telephone. I also fear total dependence on something I don’t totally understand.
I don’t understand GPS, but I can read a map and ask for directions.
I don’t understand my car, but I have two feet and a bus pass.
I don’t understand the Internet and iThings, but (for now) we still have other ways of giving, receiving, and storing information.
Maybe it doesn’t really matter what we know how to do, or the tools we create to do our tasks for us and then destroy and replace with new tools, because ultimately our lives will be curated by what we find it necessary to do. Math, for most people, just isn’t necessary. I’m sure there are plenty of skills I don’t have that someone, somewhere, thinks is a travesty. I don’t know how to shoot a gun, drive a stick shift, or milk a cow, and I don’t think it really affects my quality of life. Perhaps, like mollusks, skills obey the law of natural selection too.
Innovation’s most used, most effective advertising campaign depends on the belief that it is making our lives simpler (and therefore “better”), freeing up precious time to do all the things that laborious tasks like [math? dishes? reading a TV Guide?] were preventing you from doing. Here’s the harsh truth: we just fill up that time with other laborious tasks like standing in line at the Genius Bar and figuring out how to get our Rokus to work.
Life fills up, and usually not with leisure. So stop picking on your Grandma because she doesn’t want to learn how to stream Netflix, and don’t pick on me because I still make playlists on iTunes and am done trying to learn how to sync my Google Cal with my iCal with my paper planner. If you, me, and your Grandma are happy with our lives and able to contribute in meaningful ways using the tools and skills that we like, that’s all that should matter.